What’s the Twouble with Twitter Marketing?

twitter marketing

By Mark Schaefer

My very wise friend Jay Baer wrote a thought-provoking post entitled Is Twitter in 2017 even worth the trouble?

He points to research citing incredibly low brand engagement rates and suggests that perhaps Twitter has become a marketing afterthought.

This discussion was particularly timely for me as I’ve spent the last few months diving deeply into Twitter so I can revise my book The Tao of Twitter. Does Twitter have any role in a brand marketing strategy today? Let’s take a look at the situation in a new way.

The state of Twitter marketing

Jay points to research depicting a bleak Twitter reality. He writes:

Twitter remains a conversation platform for media and influencers. And Twitter’s role as a customer service platform remains strong, partially as a result of positive functionality tweaks.

But as a way to get new people to discover your content and read your blog post, or listen or your podcast, or watch your video? Nah. Twitter just doesn’t do that these days.

New research from our partners at RivalIQ found that the average engagement rate on Twitter for brands is now 0.049%. That includes all likes, comments, retweets, etc. Every action but clicks.

I’m not sure why “clicks” were not considered “engagement” since that might be the most valuable engagement of all, but nevertheless let’s push forward with our discussion. Twitter’s brand engagement rate, according to this report, is about the same dismal level as banner ads. What’s going on?

The enigma

Even though I wrote the best-selling book on Twitter, I’ll admit that in the last 2-3 years, the platform has been like a crazy aunt in Iowa. You know they’re there, you know you should visit more often, but life distractions just get in the way.

After doing a deep dive and re-discovering the platform over the last few months, I have an entirely new perspective on what Twitter is, and what it can become. Twitter … is awesome.

  • People engage with Twitter like crazy. Maybe not with brands, but with each other. Twitter devotees expend a tremendous amount of time on Twitter Chats, following hashtags, providing opinions, and playing funny games with each other. The 1:1 and 1:many engagement on Twitter is very high. Why are brands failing?
  • There are a ton of people on Twitter. The official active user number is something like 350 million and over the last year growth has been accelerating.  A recent analysis showed their daily average users to be higher than Snapchat.
  • Millions more consume Twitter content in stealth mode. Twitter estimates that 2x or 3x that official number of people consume tweets without logging into the platform. For example, before I began my Twitter renaissance I had consumed and published my tweets through Hootsuite, never signing into Twitter for weeks at a time. Most people “stalk” Twitter without posting, representing a huge audience that is not accounted for in the official numbers.
  • Twitter is the de facto “second screen” for media. Nielsen estimates the amplification of content through Twitter expands an advertising audience by 6 percent. Nielsen also demonstrated that Twitter conversations correlate directly to the general population attitudes about content. 
  • Twitter lovers are more likely to follow, and buy from, brands that engage with them than those on Facebook, according to several studies.
  • I’ve had fun discovering the many new features Twitter has added to make it easy to share, consume, advertise and analyze. It is a world-class communications system, not just a broadcast channel for links.

So let’s summarize. Twitter has a growing global fanbase of hundreds of millions of people. Their users are passionate, loyal, and engaged. Twitter makes it easy to publish, advertise, and analyze. It may be the most powerful real-time marketing research tool on the planet.

So why is Twitter marketing an afterthought? What’s behind this enigma? There’s a clue in the research report itself.

Doubling down on Twitter

There’s a little sidebar in the report that offers an explanation:

While we don’t agree with the claim ‘Twitter is dead’, the engagement is minuscule. Most brands don’t appear to try, treating it as a broadcast channel.

I think that’s root of the problem. Brands are checking a box. They aren’t even trying to engage on Twitter.

Off the top of my head, I can’t name a single Twitter marketing or advertising specialist. Everything is going toward Facebook and Google these days. There are countless Facebook/AdWords marketing gurus, webinars, courses, mastermind groups and conferences. There is no serious focus on Twitter marketing whatsoever.

And yet with all this money and effort, the same report states that the brand engagement rate with Facebook is also in the banner ad range of 0.17 percent. Now that is mind-blowing. All that money going to Facebook for that microscopic engagement rate?

It makes me wonder … if some smart brand team or agency placed the same focus on Twitter, could they achieve better results than that embarrassing Facebook number? Would the mere novelty of a brand taking Twitter seriously ignite the platform’s passionate users?

And maybe there’s a business case to try. As Facebook ads grow in popularity, the company announced it is running out of space to display ads, which means ad prices will go up. Could Twitter be a cost-effective alternative to Facebook ads as the cost becomes out of reach for some businesses?

The core issue

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know that I’m not an “evangelist” for anything. I want to search for the business truth of the matter and provide advice based on reality, not an agenda. So what IS the truth about Twitter as a potential marketing weapon?

I once had a friend who said “Facebook advertising sucks. I’ve had zero results there.” It made me wonder, does Facebook suck, or does my friend’s advertising suck?

I think that is the intellectual honesty we must use to assess the situation with Twitter as well.

Have brands been unsuccessful on Twitter because it takes a special approach to connect on this quirky platform, because the billion-user-promise of Facebook has been so intoxicating, because brands have become lazy link broadcasters? Or, is there some chronic and unsolvable issue in the DNA of Twitter that truly makes it ineffective for marketers?

I don’t know for certain but my instinct is that the first scenario is the true one. I cannot discern any logical obstacle to a brand kicking butt on the “new Twitter” with the appropriate resources and focus. And there are plenty of case studies in the revised book to back that up (here’s an example of using Twitter in a way that gains engagement!). But honestly, I can’t completely explain the Twitter marketing enigma.

What’s your view? What’s keeping you away from Twitter, or drawing you to it?

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Unsplash.com 

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